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Wu Sangui -- A Controversial Traitor in the History of China

General Wu Sangui (1616 -- 1678) was widely considered as a big traitor in the history of China, both in the Ming and the Qing Dynasty.


He opened the gate, for Qing’s Manchu army, of the most important site on the strong Line of Defense that was built by Ming Empire's great marshal Sun Chengzong, and then helped this nomadic regime unified the whole of the nation.


Decades after the Qing Dynasty was established, he initiated another war against the Qing. 


However, due to complicated historical situation, his betrayal behaviors were not just pure evil. 


Brave and Loyal General Wu Sangui

Born into a military family of the Ming Dynasty, Wu Sangui was brave, excellent at martial arts, and had achieved a good score in the Military Imperial Examination.


Wu and his father, who was also an excellent general, were both serving in Ming’s army in the Line of Defense troop that the General Sun Chengzong built.  


Wu Sangui got promoted several times, for his excellent military skills and achievements.


The Manchu regime tried to summon him to surrender for many times, with big money and power, but he never accepted; even his powerful uncle and brother had already complied and frequently persuaded him to do the same.


Soon, Wu Sangui became the chief commander of an extremely elite cavalry troop, guarding in the most important military site in the Great Wall in the Line of Defense, of which inside was the Ming Empire and outside was the nomadic regime Manchu.


At that time, Wu Sangui was an exceptionally brave and talented general with absolute loyalty to his emperor Zhu Youjian


Hard Decision to Choose A Side

Then an uprising army of refugees and peasants was marching toward Ming’s capital city Beijing, Wu Sangui was summoned to come back to protect this city.


However, on his way to Beijing, the city was already occupied by the rebel army, and his emperor Zhu Youjian commited suicide. ​


Wu Sangui and his army now was in a difficult situation: he wasn’t strong enough to revenge for his emperor or build an independent kingdom; he was not willing tosurrender to his long-time enemy Manchu; but he didn’t want to surrender to the refugee army that had just perished the Ming Dynasty either.


But he had to make a choice, as he was surrounded by powerful and strong enemies who were waiting for his answer. 


In the end, Wu Sangui decided to surrender to the refugee uprising army, since they were all Han people.


A "Plausible", Tricky Pact 

However, the king of the refugee army imprisoned and tortured Wu Sangui’s father and took his favorite concubine away; many of the former ministers of the Ming Empire were humiliated and tortured as well.


Wu Sangui was very angry and disappointed, so he decided to fight back against the refugee army.


However, he wasn’t strong enough, which made him needed to borrow an army from Manchu. 


Then they came to an agreement that Manchu would help Wu Sangui to defeat the refugee army and assist another prince of Ming to re-establish the Ming Dynasty in the southern China, while Manchu could occupy the northern China; additionally, the Manchu army wouldn't slaughter any civilians, and would treat them well. 


Wu Sangui probably didn’t realize that sometimes, only the equal strength could come up with a relatively fair agreement; because one side needs to be strong and capable enough to make sure that the other side would follow the terms. 


Reluctantly Surrender to Manchu After Intense Battle


Then, in that military site near the Great Wall named the Shanhai Pass, the decisive big war happened.

Wu Sangui led his 20,000 soldiers fought intensely against the refugee army which had around 100,000 warriors. 

After they had been fought fiercely for a long time, When Wu Sangui’s army kept losing and retreating, the Manchu Lord finally led his 70,000 warriors participated, and won.

Tens of thousands of soldiers died in the cruel war. 


The refugee army was seriously hurt and started to decline dramatically after this war. Wu Sangui also encountered huge loss and was not able to make Manchu to follow the agreement that they signed before.


Afterwards, Wu Sangui complied and respected the Manchu Lord as his new monarch.


The Manchu regime, on the other hand, seized this opportunity, went through the Great Wall, and moved their capital to Beijing. 


Perfidious Empire Qing and the General Wu Sangui

Manchu regime, now the Qing Empire, refused to follow the agreement with Wu Sangui, in which Qing and the re-established Ming divide and rule China separately and independently.


Qing kept expanding and had unified most places in China, who also committed countless cruel massacres; Wu Sangui kept fighting bravely for Qing government and showing them his loyalty.


Wu Sangui, in the next decades, had contributed a lot in Qing’s unification of the whole of the nation; he even assassinated the very last king of Ming, which made him the most devious traitor and a complete betrayer of the Ming Dynasty. 


Initiating A Rebel War Against Qing Empire

Wu Sangui then was assigned as the king of two provinces in the southwest China; his first son married to Qing’s honorable princess and stayed in Beijng as a hostage.


Years later, when Qing Empire’s ruling was stable, the current emperor Xuan Ye started to weaken and abolish Wu’s political and military power. 


Then Wu Sangui initiated a rebel war against the Qing Empire.


Some said that he was unsatisfied with having his power taken away. Others said that within his army, there were many people who still wanted to recover the Ming Empire; as a chief commander, Wu Sangui couldn't let down those large numbers of his loyal soldiers.


Anyway, Wu Sangui rebelled, in the name of expelling the nomadic Manchu regime and recovering Han people’s empire. ​

This war went very well in the first few years. Wu Sangui also allied with many other armies who were willing to have the Ming Empire back.


With his excellent military skills and his extremely elite cavalry troop, he occupied almost half China, and kept winning.


Failure of of Wu Sangui and His Allied Troops

However, Wu Sangui was too old. He passed away old and sick, only 5 months after he established his new dynasty and claimed himself emperor.


Without the excellent general Wu Sangui, the rebellion army lost very soon. 

Actually, there were many other forces that were fighting against Qing’s army and wanted to recover the Ming Dynasty, but they were neither united nor well organized; instead, they both wanted to expand and enlarge their own benefits.


Therefore, though they had won several times and occupied nearly half China, and obtained great supports from large numbers of civilians, they still lost all of the chances in the end, like Wu Sangui in the southwest and the Zheng clan in Taiwan. 


Controversial, Widely Criticized Traitor Wu Sangui

Wu Sangui was a widely criticized traitor in the history of China, for his betrayal of the Ming Empire, the refugee army, and Qing. 


His choices did influence the history of China; because of his changing masters, Ming and Qing’s people all disliked him and considered him as a big traitor. 


History was written by the victors. Hence, it is hard to know exactly what Wu Sangui’s original intention was; to revenge for his late emperor, or just to maintain his own benefit? 


In the history which was consisted of complicated aspects, an absolute and accurate comment was not always easy.